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Sweeping New York Lawsuit Challenges Trump Administration Marijuana Policy

Cannabis satifva leaf
Cannabis satifva leaf Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Yet another courtroom battle promises to pull the White House into the legal spotlight on Wednesday as key arguments are heard in Manhattan in a lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s marijuana policy while seeking to legalize pot under federal law.

Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein is taking the case seriously: At a hearing in September, Hellerstein said he would give the matter prioritized attention, setting it ahead of his other cases, according to this report in The New York Times.

Marijuana activists from across the country are expected to show up at the Courthouse on Wednesday when arguments to dismiss the lawsuit are heard, according to multiple media reports.

About 30 states have laws legalizing marijuana, according to this report. It has blossomed into a giant industry of growers, distributors and producers of pot paraphernalia.

When the suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan in July,  according to the Times report, it appeared to be an intriguing, if limited, effort to help its five named plaintiffs — among them, a former professional football player with a business selling pot-based pain relievers and a 12-year-old girl who treats her chronic epilepsy with medical marijuana.

But the case was thrust into the national spotlight when Trump's Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued an order on Jan. 6 encouraging prosecutors to aggressively enforce the federal marijuana law, endangering the multibillion-dollar weed industry in states where it is legal.

In a 98-page complaint, the lawsuit presents a case for legalization through constitutional arguments and an historical tour of marijuana use — dating 10,000 years ago in the production of Taiwanese pottery to the early smoking habits of President Barack Obama.

The N.Y. lawsuit says ancient Egyptians used the drug to treat eye sores and hemorrhoids, that Thomas Jefferson puffed it for his migraines and that James Madison credited sweet hemp for giving him “insight to create a new and democratic nation,” the lawsuit states.

The suit includes material quoting John Ehrlichman, an adviser to President Richard Nixon, saying early efforts to criminalize pot were meant to disrupt hippies and the black community after the 1960s. The claim is supported by an affidavit from Roger J. Stone, Jr., a pro-pot Nixon-era operative and adviser to Mr. Trump.

According to the Times ' report, the legal action is a somewhat rare attempt to use civil claims to legalize weed and has offered some novel arguments as to why its classification has violated the constitutional rights of those who filed the suit.

“It’s the first time a young child who needs lifesaving medicine has stood up to the government to be able to use it,” Joseph A. Bondy, one of the lawyers who brought the lawsuit told the Times.

Lawyers for the U.S. government argue that Congress decided nearly 50 years ago that pot should be a Schedule 1 drug, and if the plaintiffs don’t agree, they should try to change the law.

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